TAARZAN THE WONDER CAR
Starring: Vastal Sheth, Ayesha Takia, Amrish Puri, Shakti Kapoor
Music by Himesh Reshammiya
Produced by Gordhan Tanwani
Directed by Abbas Mustan
What on earth can I say about a movie called "Taarzan The Wonder Car?" No doubt I suffered the same problem that the publicity guys did -- trying desperately to find a way to make this crappy movie sound interesting -- but it was their reluctant and embarassed endorsement on the back of the DVD box that really sold me. Here it is, in full, so you can enjoy it as much as I did:
"Kartar Singh (Amrish Puri) owns a garage. Raj (Vastal) is a sweet and simple guy and also very intelligent. He works in a garage owned by Kartar Singh (Amrish Puri). Raj found a car in a junkyard and transformed it into a macho machine and named it 'Taarzan'. Priya (Ayesha Takia) loves Raj and they both enjoy the company of their new friend 'Taarzan'. TAARZAN THE WONDER CAR is a fantasy tale which promises a lot of adventure. The special effects for the film has been done by a Denmark company."
As expected, the movie failed to live up to even these pathetic promises...the only thing that I could certify as true was that Amrish Puri was in it (which might be why they mentioned it twice). Sure, "Taarzan" is a "macho machine"...but so what? My dad's Harley was pretty macho but you'd never catch me paying to look at it. Who cares if Raj is "intelligent?" Aren't *I* intelligent enough? Does being intelligent make me an interesting character, even though I'm not "sweet" or "simple?" Isn't it sad that this film PROMISES a lot of adventure...but never actually delivers it?
Yes, believe me, it's SO sad that I've been sitting here for weeks, drumming my fingers on the DVD case and trying to figure out what I can say about it other than: "wow, what a bad title!" But I'll try to distill its essence for you (without making you actually suffer through it) and maybe I'll come up with an insight or two about what happens when Bollywood rips off Hollywood...and does a really horrible job of it.
Though I'm considered (by some) to be a jaded, cynical bitch who would only be vaguely surprised if somebody attacked me with a chainsaw, I still find myself amazed by one thing: the audacity of Bollywood Screenplay Bandits. When they shamelessly rip off a Hollywood plot -- and somehow manage to change it from "cheap entertainment" to "slapdash mess" in the process -- do they sit there feeling all proud of themselves, or do they just twiddle their thumbs and say "I didn't know it was wrong?" In public school -- back when I was sweet and simple, you know -- there was a kid in my class who used to hit me and then pretend he didn't do it. Do classroom bullies eventually grow up to be Bollywood Screenplay Bandits, having graduated from "I didn't do it" to "I'm going to make a lot of money with my audacious set of balls?"
Either way, Bollywood plot rip-offs serve at least one useful purpose: to give us some insight into just how DIFFERENT these films are from their Hollywood originals. When "Mujhe Meri Biwi Se Bachaao" stole "Ruthless People," for instance, the villains weren't ruthless at all...they were just cute people who wanted to get married (and dance). When "Kaante" ripped off "Reservoir Dogs," we still got a bunch of bank robbers...but they were SYMPATHETIC bank robbers. In fact, we were treated to an in-depth study of the hardships which PRODUCE sympathetic bank robbers (a dying wife, a poverty-stricken girlfriend, a bombastically retarded sister). When "Raat" ripped off "Evil Dead," we got...well, two hours of people running away from a wind machine. But if wind is scary then I guess that's still pretty evil, so I'll give Ram Gopal Varma a few points for a faithful adaptation.
There's a trend here regardless: Bollywood tends to HUMANIZE the villains of Hollywood films. After the plots have been through the grist mill that is Bollywood plotting and marketing ("Who's our audience? EVERYBODY!") the villains become people who really WANT to be good, but have fallen afoul of some sadistic script-writer who gives them no option but to be bad. But when the producers realize that a movie with a bunch of well-meaning Robin Hoods running around isn't very interesting -- and that thirteen major characters aren't NEARLY enough for a good family drama -- they add the most selfish, unrealistic bunch of thugs and baddies imaginable...often commanded by a greedy corporate mastermind who hates India and forces his lackeys to do horrible things to old ladies, and who then commands a twisted, dim-witted mutant to kill the good guy, but who will finally plead desperately for his life when the plan fails.
The island explodes, the hero survives, the end.
"Taarzan The Wonder Car" is a perfect case study for comparing Bollywood with Hollywood, because it is heavily influenced by the John Carpenter film "Christine" (and, of course, the Stephen King novel it was based on). If you haven't seen it or read it, "Christine" was about a self-regenerating, wickedly jealous car who would only play 50's novelty tunes on her radio, and therefore drove people insane (and occasionally crushed people against walls). But while the car in THAT film was the very embodiment of single-minded obsession and hatred, the car in THIS film wants to kill the bad guys...but also engages in playful slapstick with everybody else (and even rescues some orphans...something Christine would NEVER have done). In short, "Taarzan" is the schizophrenic offspring of "Christine" and "Herbie The Love Bug." One minute Taarzan is cheerfully helping young couples get together, and the next minute he's driving full-tilt into an elderly crippled man. Near the end of the film he even swims...but we'll get to that later.
It all starts with David Chaudhry, a guy who designs cars in his bedroom using only his 1980's PowerMac. Like every independent car designer, David knows that you need to start your blueprint with the spare tire and then everything else just falls into place. After years of work he manages to design a revolutionary supercar, which he humbly names after himself.
But he's been neglecting his family during his design spree, especially his little son Raj. David makes a big spectacle of loving and respecting Raj, but this just shows how good an actor he is: Raj is a difficult kid to look at, believe me. Not only is he the ugliest creature I've ever seen, but his life seems to consist of eating potato chips and cracking jokes that autistic people would find really funny.
When your offspring looks like a sleep-deprived slug (and is at an equivalent level of intellectual development), I suppose you throw yourself into all-night car-designing sprees. As the first example of a technique the filmmakers use in lieu of real characterization -- that is, giving many of the actors an unrealistic and annoying trait that is repeated over and over again, so you can tell them apart -- Raj is always asking his father silly questions, and eventually we learn that David really loves cars, especially his OLD car, which he calls "Taarzan" for reasons which are not amusing, important, or relevant to this review.
In an attempt to sell his innovative new car design (with the aforementioned spare tire), David runs afoul of "The Four Foxes," a bunch of evil car executives who steal his patent and then laugh at him. They also think it's silly to name a car "David Chauhdry." David goes a little bananas about this and tries to defeat The Foxes with their own crockery, but with the aid of a joyously crooked cop they beat him up (with shovels), put him in his beloved Taarzan, and drown him in a pond.
BONUS RIP-OFF NOTICE: Fans of horror movies from the mid-80's will recognize this scene as an almost shot-by-shot reproduction from "Ghost Story," the Peter Straub film that was almost as bad as this one. "Who, me?" says the audacious plagiarizing producer with the big set of balls. "Oh yeah, make sure the Disney 'Tarzan' action figure is prominently displayed in every shot, ha-ha."
Fast-forward twelve years. Raj is no longer an ugly child, now he's an ugly young adult played by Vastal Sheth. He's a stereotypical University Nerd who puts grease in his hair, wears just a touch of pink lipstick, and describes his daily level of happiness in percentage points ("Today I am 80% happy!"). Raj is a not particularly sympathetic character...he tattles on other kids and always seems to be flirting with his grandmother, with whom he shares a gorgeous gingerbread house.
But Raj's life is no fairy tale. As you'll remember from the publicity blurb I quoted above, he works after hours in a garage run by Kartar Singh. Karter scares me, not just because he's Amrish Puri or because he wears his hair in a little ball on top of his head, but because he insists that being a mechanic isn't just a job...it's a RELIGION. And he's not just joking around. In the religion of mechanics, apparently, God Himself will provide you with a discontinued fuel pump (or at least unclog the one you currently have, which is almost as cool).
Karter has a really stupid son named Golu whose schtick is to constantly put food into other people's cars, like curd milk in their radiators and Roohafza sorbet in their engines. You're supposed to laugh at Golu -- only a real NUMBSKULL would put food inside an engine! -- but I suspect his mental state is due to Karter locking him in the trunks of cars when he was bad, which he continues to do now whenever Golu acts up. Golu also frightens me, in a way that I all muscular, hyperactive and dim-witted people frighten me: I recognize that they have sexual urges just like the rest of us, and I'm afraid of meeting one in a dark Mumbai alley some night, wearing that little ball of hair on his head and brandishing his Roohafza sorbet. Scream!
Like most insecure, greasy nerds, Raj has a difficult time at school. He's always being picked on by a typical quartet of University Punks lead by Rocky, who wears average, everyday University Punk attire: a silver rockstar jacket and a Little Stevie bandana. Rocky doen't look very intimidating -- his clothes are effeminate and his friends are named Maxi, Vicky and Bunty -- but they're still higher in the social hierarchy than Raj, who they call "Battery" because...well, he wears glasses. You know...battery, glasses. It's a translation thing.
Raj would spend most of his University career being only 80% happy, but when Priya (Ayesha Takia) transfers to the university, everybody falls in love with her...probably because she's sexy, spunky and cute, not to mention she has her own instrumental theme with sassy R&B vocal stylings. As both Raj and Rocky spend time wooing her we get to learn a lot about the do's and dont's of Bollywood courtship, which I present to you for your edification:
COURTSHIP TECHNIQUES IN BOLLYWOOD FILMS (Especially films involving teenagers, but aimed at a pre-teen market, like I suspect this one was)
First of all, when a girl asks you where the principal's office is, you must NOT direct her to the men's washroom. She will find this insulting, and perhaps a little baffling (I'm always baffled when this happens to me). Next, when you know that the girl already hates you (because of that weird bathroom gag I told you not to pull), DO NOT stare longingly at her underwear in the library, even if she doesn't know you're doing it...we VIEWERS know you're doing it, and we think it's absolutely creepy (and I'm really talking to the Director Of Photography here...shame on you, pervert!).
I know, I know, those are your favourite things to do to girls, but don't worry...there are better ways of pitching woo! Namely, you can risk your life to rescue her purse, you can tighten her screws, and -- most importantly -- you can get stoned on "Rose Day," tell her that she looks like your grandmother, and stage an impromptu "Boys vs. Girls" dance in the parking lot. Chicks LOVE that stuff! Priya quickly falls for Raj (I bet nobody ELSE ever staged a "Boys vs. Girls" dance for her) and she rewards him with a startling makeover: contact lenses, a hair wash, and a sleeveless red jumpsuit with a zipper from crotch to neck...every University student's dream!
An aside: do people REALLY DRESS LIKE THIS in India? Or do the guys who make these films live in some kind of "retro fashion hell?"
Anyway, this movie isn't just about two polar opposites falling in love against all odds and with no plausible reason. It wouldn't be called "Taarzan The Wonder Car" if that were the case! No, it's more bizarre than that: Raj has discovered Taarzan -- the car his father drowned in -- for sale at a junkyard. This discovery makes him so happy that he can't even DEFINE a percentage for it! And this is where the movie REALLY deviates from "Christine," and perhaps gives us some insight into the cuddly, life-affirming side of Bollywood:
In John Carpenter's "Christine," fixing the car was an obsession that slowly grew into a jealous, scary, murderous rage. Fixing up "Taarzan," however, is an event which brings everybody together to celebrate the memory of a kind father who was tragically drowned (though I'm confused how everybody knew that he'd drowned, but they hadn't discovered the car he drowned in for twelve years...did they just MISPLACE the car when they found the body?). Karter donates his garage and his tools for free, Priya and Raj enjoy cute, flirtatious moments during the "reconstruction" montage, and grandma is so happy she's willing to hand-feed Raj as he changes the oil (very little of which is in his hair these days). In the end they all create a flashy new car that I think looks like a squashed, purple mole.
Everything would be fine except that "Taarzan" is possessed by the spirit of Raj's father...and he wants to kill. But unlike Christine he doesn't want to kill EVERYBODY, especially not the orphans he meets on the side of the road...in fact, when he runs across those orphans -- in the midst of one of his killing sprees -- he pushes their bus out of a ditch and then farts a winking purple happyface for them. This is the first time we get to hear Taarzan's theme song, which is echoey and plaintive and goes something like "Taaaaaar-zaaaaan! You are the feeeeeling! Taaaaaaar-zaaaaaaan!"
The car also chooses not to kill Rocky and his gange of University Thugs, even after they wallop Raj's widowed mother (the ultimate fate of every widowed mother in India is to receive a head wound, I've realized). Whereas Christine would have just run those guys over or squashed them against a wall while playing a quirky, sentimental and somewhat disturbing song on the radio, Taarzan chases them around a parking garage to jaunty strains of synthesized vaudeville music, then happily retreats when they say "sorry." You might see him as a "Christine that tickles," or a "Herbie The Love Bug with anger management problems."
In short, Taarzan is a real mess of a car.
Taarzan has set out to kill -- one by one -- the "Four Foxes" who drowned him, and this comprises the "lot of adventure" we were promised. First in line for murder is Kailash Chopra, who has forseen the eventual decline of the car industry and plans to move to the next logical field: undergarments and poultry. He plans to call his new company -- I shit you not -- "The Ladybird Bicycle And Moppet Company."
Rather than just waiting for Mr. Chopra's buddies to beat him up for choosing such a stupid name, Taarzan grinds Chopra's car up against the side of a moving train and then blows him up. It's the first of the many special effects that "has been done by a company in Denmark," and really the only successful one...the other effects are predictably cheap CGI tricks that will convince you that Denmark is not the hub of special effects wizardry, but it must be hard to do computer graphics AND be hep with those Dogma guys. Maybe they should change their focus to undergarments and poultry?
Giving us a scientific glimpse into the world of killer cars, we begin getting "car's-eye-views" of things, though they tend to be from an angle that would be impossible for a car to actually see from. We learn from these glimpses that cars have colour vision....but can they taste sweets? Are they aware of their own mortality? Doesn't Taarzan feel sick when Raj and Priya make out in the front seat? I mean, c'mon Raj, the car's possessed by your DAD...don't play those "my hand is back-itch ointment" games when you're sitting inside him!
After the brutal murder, police officer Khurana arrives and makes a brilliant suggestion: "The entire area should undergo proper forensic analysis and detailed checking!" His obligatory silly sidekick does this, and they trace the killing back to Taarzan. But the problem is...Raj has alibis for the night of the murder. Nobody has considered the possibility of a car going on a killing spree...yet. Like many other characters in the movie, Khurana has his own annoying and repetitive "character trait": everything he says contains the word "funda." But unlike with the other characters, this trait is not meant to be funny, it is meant to be profound and ominous. It isn't.
The next Fox to be murdered is Mahesh Saxena, played by Shakti "still creepy after all these years" Kapoor. His final night starts off in one of those impossibly clean, generic nightclubs where all the walls are covered by arrays of TV screens and lightbulbs...you know the kind, you saw Dil Chahta Hai. It's the kind of place where everybody does a heavily choreographed line-dance to generic dance music while the clean-cut-but-scruffy DJ shouts encouragement ("Everybody! Boogie! Groovy!"). It's also a place where old, crippled men like Shakti are permitted on the dancefloor, though they end up dancing with the really ugly women.
Taarzan lures Saxena away from his crack-whore dance partner by terrorizing his wife, trapping him in the car, spinning him around, running over him, and finally drowning him...who ever said "Taarzan" was a softie? During this long sequence of events, Saxena does what all the "Four Foxes" do when they are slowly (but playfully) tortured by Taarzan: they give a running commentary of what's happening: "My goodness, there is nobody in the car! And now the door is closing! The car is driving! It's spinning! The door has opened again! Oh no, the car is going to hit me! I will die!"
Two foxes down, two more to go! Are we there yet? At this point I realized that we hadn't been introduced to Priya's father, and suddenly it hit me: PLEASE, NO! Don't make him be one of the "Four Foxes!" Why can't India make a SINGLE movie where a happy young couple can just get married and have fun, without one person's father having killed the other person's father? I began hoping that the slightly less painful "Bollywood Plan B" would occur: the bad guys just KIDNAP the girl, forcing the hero (and his bloodthirsty car) to rescue her. I'll leave you to figure out which one was the surprise ending.
I admit it: while most of this movie was so bad as to not deserve mentioning, I formed a soft-spot for Priya early in the movie. Maybe I felt a sense of pathos, having seen a bunch of silly guys ogle her underwear early in the film, but she's also a very pretty and capable actress. During her final song, however, I noticed that she really cannot dance (or maybe she's just distracted by Raj's Technicolour Dreamcoat -- with matching Dreampants!) Raj looked better before Priya got a hold of him.
Where were we? Oh yeah, just two Foxes left. Taarzan disguises himself as a house to chase down Mr. DeCosta, leaving his idiot son Jojo behind to fend for himself (what is it with idiot sons in Bollywood?) Does Jojo have a repetitive character trait? You bet! He doesn't put food into cars (ha ha, that would be crazy!) but every line he speaks contains the words "latest news," as in, "Father, this is the latest news...that car will kill you!" Still, he's good for something when he teams up with the final Fox for a grand-slam, action-packed, underwater showdown, courtesy of that Danish company everybody's raving about.
You might be getting uptight, wondering how Raj could possibly stay out of prison after all this: his car was seen running over every single victim, after all. Fortunately a star witness arrives and explains everything to Inspector Khurana: yes, the witness is the ghost of Raj's father! He floats around on the beach, proclaims his son's innocence, says goodbye to his wife (who has suffered a second head wound as part of her endless martyrdom), and then floats away into the distance, leaving the Inspector with a hell of a police report to write. "This is the nature's funda," he says, and the credits roll. The end. The bad guy pleaded for his life but the island didn't blow up, probably because there wasn't one in the movie. No giant crocodiles either.
"Taarzan The Wonder Car" is not destined to be a camp classic...it's just plain dull. It's too dumb for adults and...well, it's too dumb for children too. The only people I can see REALLY enjoying it are car fetishists, in which case it could be considered the Jurassic Park of car movies, albeit with special effects by a Danish company. Amrish Puri? Shakti Kapoor? Underwear? A Macho Machine? If that stuff turns your crank then I guess this movie's for you, but I suspect most fans of "Taarzan" put Roohafza soda in their engines. And then giggle.